We had come to this dry area . . . and we had paused in it and built our houses and we were slowly creating the legend of our life. We were digging for water and we were leading streams through the dry land. We were planting and ploughing and standing in the midst of the garden that we were making.

~ William Saroyan

Decrease Font Size
Increase Font Size

Recommended Reading

You’ll find two reading lists here - one focused on the history of California’s Central Valley, the other a list of publications about Fresno and Fresno County. Enjoy exploring these resources.


A Land Between Rivers Documentary

Fresno Historical Society, 2006

A one-hour documentary film that tells the story of Central California between the San Joaquin and Kings River.   Using aerials, archival photos, rare footage and visuals shot in high-definition video, it is the story of transformation (from pre-settlement to the Gold Rush to post World War II prosperity) where the nexus of land, water and people seeking a better future have created the most productive agricultural region on earth.


A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California

Laura Cunningham, 2010

An accomplished artist and a naturalist trained in biology and paleontology, Laura Cunningham spent over two decades bringing an all-but-forgotten world to life:  California as it was before European contact.  Bringing together historical accounts, archaeological data and paleontology findings as the research foundation for this volume, Cunningham then traveled with paintbox in hand to study and record the remaining vestiges of semi-pristine California landscapes. All of her painstaking work comes together in fascinating text and paintings of vast vistas and wildlife in this remarkable step back in time

The Great Central Valley: California’s Heartland

Stephen Johnson, Gerald Haslam and Robert Dawson, 1992

By three natives of California’s Central Valley – author Haslam and photographs Dawson and Johnson – this volume explores the rich natural and social history of the state’s heartland.

Garden of the Sun: A History off the San Joaquin Valley, 1772-1939

Wallace Smith, 1939 (Second Edition edited and revised with additions by William B. Secrest, Jr., 2004)

Widely acknowledged to be the definitive history of the Valley, this completely revised edition provides updated annotations and references.

Valley’s Legends & Legacies, Volumes I – VI

Catherine Morison Rehart, 1996-2006

The breadth and depth of Central California history is chronicled through these remarkable profiles of people, places and events.  A testament to the power of storytelling, this is history at its most engaging.

Picturing California’s Other Landscape: The Great Central Valley

Heath Schenker, 1999

Featuring a striking selection of historic and contemporary paintings, photographs, tourist art, advertising images, and maps, the volume examines the portrayal of the Central Valley over the past 150 years.

The Cattle King

Edward F. Treadwell, 1950

Treadwell’s classic biography of Henry Miller traces the story of the German immigrant who arrived in San Francisco in 1850 with six dollars in his pocket to his immergence as the Cattle King forty years later – the largest private landowner in the nation. 

One Man Show: Henry Miller in the San Joaquin

Edited by Charles Sawyer, 2003

Through an engaging compilation of primary sources – letters, stories, newspaper articles, oral histories – Sawyer explores the life of the Cattle King – and the exciting era of the pioneer West.

Indian Summer: Traditional Life Among the Choinumne Indians of California’s San Joaquin Valley

Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, 1993

In 1850, the six-year-old author of these reminiscences was adopted by the Choinumne Yokuts and lived with the tribe for the next twelve years.  This chronicle, filled with vivid details of daily life, is the only known account by any outsider who lived among a California Indian people while they were still following their traditional ways.

Take Me to the River: Stories of Life along the San Joaquin River

Edited by Joell Hallowell & Coke Hallowell, 2010

A compilation of stories gathered over a ten-year period, the illustrated volume tells the reminiscences reflect the lives of fishermen, immigrants, Native Americans, hunters and environmentalists.  The text also recounts the many challenges that the river has confronted through the decades.

The San Joaquin: A River Betrayed

Gene Rose, 2000

The story of California’s heartland river – its people, its places and its past – is dramatically presented as the author identifies the forces and figures who have shaped, altered and depleted this once mighty waterway.


Bitter Melon: Inside America’s Last Rural Chinese Town

Jeff Gillenkirk and James Motlow, 1987

Chinese immigrants built a large part of California, providing a workforce for the railroads, mines and fams.  This is the powerful story of Locke, a community in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – the only known town in the nation built and inhabited exclusively by Chinese.

Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley

Edited by Stan Yogi, Gayle Mak and Patricia Wakida, 1996, rev. 2007

From myths of the Yokuts Indians to stories and poems by contemporary writers, this anthology showcases the best literature of the Central Valley.


Fresno County: The Pioneer Years

Fresno County in the 20th Century

Charles Clough and William B. Secrest, Jr., 1984 & 1986

The definitive two-volume history of Fresno County includes extensive primary sources, photographs and maps.

Celebrating the Journey: 150 Years of Fresno County and Beyond

Catherine Morison Rehart, William Secrest, Jr., J. Randall McFarland, and Elizabeth Laval, 2007

Celebrating Fresno County’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary in 2006, this comprehensive book features text, maps, timelines, and over 1,000 photographs.

A Portrait of Fresno: 1885-1985

Text by Michael R. Waiczis and William B. Secrest, Jr.; edited by Sharon Hiigel and Maria Ortiz, 1985

Published as part of the Centennial Anniversary of Fresno City’s incorporation, the story of Fresno’s first 100 years is detailed through 300 historic photographs.

Imperial Fresno

Fresno Morning Republican newspaper, 1898

Published as a promotional piece showcasing the agricultural prowess of Fresno County, this landscape volume features descriptions and photographs that create a compelling profile of turn-of-the-century Fresno and its agricultural surroundings.

As “Pop” Saw It, Volumes 1-3

Jerome D. Laval, 1976-76

Three volumes of images by the Valley’s noted photographer Claude C. “Pop” Laval provide a rich view of Fresno and the Great Central Valley.

Fresno’s Architectural Past, Volumes I and II

Pat Hunter and Janice Stevens, 2006-07

Building by historical building, the evocative paintings of artist Pat Hunter accompanied by Janice Steven’s text bring to life the stories of Fresno’s remarkable structures -- visible reminders of the evolution of Fresno history.

Greetings from Fresno, California: Vintage Postcards from California’s Heartland

William B. Secrest, Jr., 2007

Over 200 vintage color postcards show Fresno County’s diverse past.  Images dating from as early as 1875 are paired with brief text that place each postcard within its historical context.

Fresno Sketchbook, Volumes I & II

Doug Hansen, 1991& 1993

An engaging way to explore the city -- artist Hansen takes us on adventures up and down the streets of Fresno, sketching and writing about his favorite sites and locations.


The Fresno Armenians: The History of a Diaspora Community

Berge Bulbulian, 2000

A richly-detailed history of the Armenian community of Fresno – its origins, evolution over decades, with chapters exploring Armenians in agriculture, business, and Armenian church life.


William Saroyan: Places in Time

Pat Hunter and Janice Stevens, 2008

Fresno’s most famous native son gave voice to the Armenian immigrant experience and the vibrant life of Fresno’s Armenian community through his plays, stories and novels.  Through Steven’s text and evocative watercolors by artist Pat Hunter, this biographical survey explores the signature places and locales that were significant in the writer’s world.


He Flies Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease

Edited by William E. Justice, 2008

Published in the Centennial Anniversary year of William Saroyan’s birth, this collection features a wonderful selection of short stories, plays, novels, letters, essays, and previously unpublished works bringing to life this unforgettable Armenian American voice from Fresno.


M. Theo Kearney: Prince of Fresno

Schyler Rehart and William Patterson, 1988

The life story of one of the Valley’s significant agricultural pioneers – Fresno’s “Raisin King” was instrumental in establishing the region’s colony farm system and, as one of the region’s premier raisin growers, organized the raisin industry’s first cooperative association – that evolved into today’s Sun-Maid Growers of California.


120 Degrees in The Shade (And No Shade)

E.L. Chaddock

Fresno pioneer Emory Leroy Chaddock penned these entertaining vignettes of small town life in Fresno during the 1890s into the early 20th century.  The second part of the book chronicles his 50-year career in the San Joaquin Valley’s raisin industry.

Reflections of Shaver Lake

Gene Rose, 1987

Through historic photos, reminiscences, and stories, the author tells the story of this Sierra Nevada mountain community from its rugged logging origins on Pine Ridge to its contemporary life as a mountain resort.

Many of these resources may be available for purchase through the Historical Society’s Museum Store. Shop Online or call (559) 441-0862 to check availability. 

Last Updated Sunday, February 16, 2020 - 05:12 PM.